She has a perceptual deficit, a hole in her world from an old stroke. She ignores anything lower than her mid-thighs. She has vertigo whenever she gets up from lying down. Her standing and walking balance and coordination are less than ideal. She has osteoporosis. But the staff at the skilled nursing home where she was doing rehab for her hip fracture couldn't assemble these pieces into a coherent picture any more than she could. They told her she could go home, and so that is where I took her, back all those 3000 miles. Once they told her she could go, there was no persuading her to do anything else. She fell again within days, but didn't break any bones this time. I stayed with her there for a week, all I felt I could spare. I arranged for what in-home care I could. And now I've returned to my own home where I wait on pins and needles for her new medical alarm system to inform me of the next fracture.
Watching her decline, it seems to me that getting older means that whatever you do every day becomes the most you can possibly do any day. Which means that if you're middle aged, you are setting your limits right now. If you usually don't walk more than a block each day, then old age will mean that you can't walk more than a block in a day.
So, I exercise. To give myself breaks while I was staying with her, I walked an hour each day that I could. I walked on streets that are cuts in an otherwise uninterrupted forest. When I was young, I could hear my own footsteps on those streets, mingled with the songs of the forest inhabitants: birds, insects, frogs.
I can still hear my footsteps there, but mingled with new sounds. The whoosh and thrum of the new interstate highway that now links her little town so conveniently with the outside world. It sounds like the sighs and groans of a people in a constant and terrible hurry.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But they have promises to keep
And miles to drive before they sleep.
Time itself seems in a terrible hurry when I watch her slow struggle with a bottle of medicine, a pair of shoelaces, or a simple meal heated in a microwave oven. Time is going faster than she can keep up. She is falling behind. Soon, too soon, fracture or no fracture, it will race on without her, and the rest of us with it.